28 September 2006

1053) Al-Jazeera Interview with President of Armenia, Robert Kocharian

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SHOJ: I would like to thank you Mr. President for giving Al-Jazeera News Network the opportunity to talk with you. Let me start with my first question: For 15 years, Armenia has been an independent state. What are the major achievements and failures of that period?

KOCHARIAN: First, we were able to form a country with an efficient government. The most important achievement at the time was the transition period during which we needed to develop a system for market economy and government administration. After the fall of the Soviet Union, Armenia faced difficulties as it had to immediately form all the requirements of an independent state, from governmental bodies to the military and economy. At the same time, Armenia suffered from regional problems that raised a lot of challenges. Therefore, for the past 15 years, Armenia has been trying to find its place, drawing up its new foreign policies that would help establish its existence according to the new realities and circumstances.This was the main mission, and I believe the country has succeeded in accomplishing this task. The numbers we have today on economic stability and growth indicate that we have completed the transition period successfully. However, the most difficult problem that Armenia faces now is without doubt the problem of Nagorno Karabakh.

SHOJ: What steps are you taking to solve the energy problem that Armenia faces, especially that your country does not have the natural resources such as oil and gas?

KOCHARIAN: We cannot describe the energy situation in Armenia as critical. We do have efficient energy, which means that although we do not have the resources, we still export electricity to the neighboring countries. We have completed the necessary changes in the energy sector, and today we have no fuel or gas debts, and all the power plants are making profit. At present, we are building about 50 hydroelectric plants, and we have restored and upgraded the nuclear power plant which was shut down during the Soviet era and is now working at full capacity. Without doubt we are seriously thinking about securing energy; thus, we are building a second gas pipeline from Iran which will provide Armenia with natural gas without any interruptions. It is possible that Armenia will become a center for energy distribution in South Caucasus providing electricity to the other countries.

SHOJ: Mr. President, the Nagorno Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan is considered the first bloody ethnic conflict in the ex-Soviet republics. 12 years after the ceasefire, what peaceful steps are being taken to settle the Karabakh problem?

KOCHARIAN: I would like to clarify that the conflict is between Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh, and Armenia was drawn into it - that is the precise description of the conflict. Without doubt, the conflict started between Karabakh and Azerbaijan. When the Soviet Union collapsed, two independent republics came into existence: the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Nagorno Karabakh. No one should doubt that the existence of the independent Republic of Nagorno Karabakh is legal according to international law. There were attempts to subjugate Karabakh and force it to become part of Azerbaijan. That is the reason why the war broke out.

SHOJ: At present, about 20% of Azerbaijan territory is under the control of the Karabakh forces. Is there any progress in the negotiations with Azerbaijan regarding the Nagorno Karabakh conflict?

KOCHARIAN: The main problem lies in the fact that Azerbaijan insists on keeping its territorial integrity, and it considers Karabakh to be part of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan. The fall of the Soviet Union resulted in radical changes. The whole map of Europe changed. Look at what happened in the Balkans and the ex-Soviet Union during these fundamental changes. Talking about territorial unity in this context, about any territory, has no legal standing. We have never been against any country's territorial unity and integrity because we also have a country. However, we believe that Azerbaijan and Nagorno Karabakh each have equal rights for territorial integrity. Both are countries with the right to exist independently. This is the obstacle that the negotiations have been facing for the past 15 years. Nagorno Karabakh is an independent state. It was never a part of the independent Republic of Azerbaijan. I was born in Karabakh, and at one point I also led the freedom movement. We were never part of independent Azerbaijan. Today, a generation has emerged that does not relate to Azerbaijan and cannot even imagine living under another country's rule.

SHOJ: Is Armenia, or more specifically Nagorno Karabakh, demanding only the administrative borders of Karabakh or does the demand include the 20% of Azerbaijan territories that is under Armenian control?

KOCHARIAN: There exist two lies. The first is that 20% of Azerbaijan territory is occupied, and the second is that there are one million Azeri refugees. The true numbers are totally different. However, the numbers made up by Azerbaijan have been repeated so many times that it is now believed to be the reality. The number of refugees actually includes people from both sides: Armenians and Azeris. During Soviet rule, there lived half a million Armenians in Soviet Azerbaijan, excluding those living in Karabakh. Where are they now? Part of those Armenians are now in Armenia, another part are living in Russia, and a third group are scattered around the world. Regarding the occupied lands, it does not constitute 20% of Azerbaijan. It is much less than that. Regardless, there are lands outside the administrative borders of Karabakh which are now occupied by the Armenian forces. We have repeatedly stated that, except for the narrow strip of land (Lachin) between Karabakh and Armenia, we are prepared to negotiate the terms of returning territories to Azerbaijan. If Azerbaijan truly cared about its refugees and the situation in those lands outside the administrative borders of Azerbaijan, it could have restored them a long time ago if the Azeri president had signed the agreement in Minsk and which was drawn up by the OSCE Minsk Group.

SHOJ: For a long time, you were the head of what could be called the Liberation Movement in Nagorno Karabakh. Today, what are the political aims of Karabakh? Is it striving to become an independent state or to become part of the Republic of Armenia?

KOCHARIAN: Legally, Karabakh today is an independent state, and the government there is striving to strengthen the governmental institutions. For Armenia, both possibilities are suitable. I think in the future, relations between both countries - Armenia and Karabakh -will develop and form a federation. The future will decide what will come after that. The future generations will decide on the kind of relation the two countries shall have.

SHOJ: In your opinion, will the international community recognize the independence of Nagorno Karabakh.

KOCHARIAN: I do not recall any similar situation which resulted in recognition that came easily. Decades of hard work are needed for a young nation to get that recognition. There are factors. One important factor is for the world to see that an independent state has proven itself as an efficient state, capable of performing the tasks that any independent country can perform on its territories. I believe that Nagorno Karabakh has proven that it is a nation that can rely on itself and is capable of developing as a nation. Therefore, I am optimistic about the recognition. In fact, the Republic of Armenia and the Armenian Diaspora around the world are actively working on gaining this recognition soon so that Nagorno Karabakh can join the international community. In order to achieve this, Karabakh is making the necessary changes to build better social institutions and to achieve effective democracy.

SHOJ: Mr. President, at the beginning of the 20th century, the Armenian people were subjected to wholesale massacres perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire. Today, there is an ongoing debate regarding this issue. What are your basic demands from the government of Turkey: do you want them to admit and apologize for those massacres or are you demanding compensation for the descendants and relatives of the victims of that period?

KOCHARIAN: Compensation can be demanded by those who suffered because of those massacres. I think that a lot of the Armenian Diasporans in the world have the legal right to demand compensations. The Republic of Armenia does have many demands also. There should be diplomatic relations with neighboring Turkey. There should be normal neighborly relations rather than the blockade that Turkey has imposed to paralyze Armenia. In addition, there is also Turkey's stance regarding the Nagorno Karabakh settlement. Turkey is occupying northern Cyprus and has regular military bases there, yet it demands that Armenia take certain steps regarding Karabakh. This only shows the hypocrisy of Ankara and it raises a lot of questions regarding Turkey's policies. Thus, our position is strongly connected to the current situation and with Turkey's reactions towards the general mood of the Armenians around the world. We have a very long and heavy history, and we inherited a burdensome relationship with Turkey. We cannot forget our past, but there should be a natural way to reconciliation between the two peoples. Reconciliation can start with the acknowledgment of guilt by those who committed the wrongs or crimes - call it whichever. But at present Turkey does not have the will to admit the crime, and this is causing the current situation.

SHOJ: There is the opinion that the Armenian Genocide recognition was lately brought up at a time when Turkey is negotiating its entrance to the European Union.

KOCHARIAN: The issue of the Armenian Genocide recognition has existed for a long time, but lately, it is being discussed in wider circles. Armenia, as an independent republic, announced its position at the United Nations in 1998. I have discussed it at the OSCE meetings in Istanbul, as well as during our meeting with the Turkish president at the time Suleiman Demirel and his Foreign Minister. This was long before negotiations began between the EU and Turkey regarding the latter's membership. That is why I would not relate the two. However, the EU is asking Turkey to reconsider its history and review its past, and this raises our hopes that Turkey will come to terms with its past and admit the Armenian Genocide. It is important that past actions be recognized in order to avoid similar crimes from occurring in the future.

SHOJ: Do you think this is enough to start normal relations with Turkey? How do you evaluate the relations with Ankara?

KOCHARIAN: Today, there is no relation with Turkey. Our position is clear. We are prepared to build diplomatic ties with Turkey without any pre-conditions. In our opinion, cooperation is the best method to resolve the conflict, a way in which all sides will save face. This cooperation could take place through continuous search for the best solutions. But Turkey, at present, puts pre-conditions that it has agreed upon with Azerbaijan regarding Nagorno Karabakh. Their condition is that the Armenians pull out their forces from Karabakh and only then will the borders between Turkey and Armenia be opened. These conditions are not acceptable by Armenia. The Greeks could do the same and refuse trade with Turkey until the Northern Cyprus issue is resolved. World experience has shown that trade, normal relations and continuous cooperation have always helped overcome obstacles. For example, there is a territorial conflict between Russia and Japan regarding the Kuril Islands, but neither side is making this problem a pre-condition for trade relations.

SHOJ: Armenia has difficult relations with its neighbors, with Azerbaijan over Karabakh and with Turkey as you explained now. But there are problems with Georgia as well. The Armenian community in Georgia has its own problems with the Georgian government. But there is a neighbor with whom you have excellent relations, and that is Iran. What is your country's position on Iran's rights to develop its nuclear program? And what do you think about the international pressure that Iran is subjected to regarding this issue?

KOCHARIAN: Our relation with Iran is developing dynamically, and there exist no disagreements between the two countries. We have a large trade agreement. We are undertaking huge energy projects - huge regarding the size of Armenia - such as the gas pipeline and a third electricity line. We are also planning to build a large Hydroelectric plant on the Arax River to generate electricity, in addition to other projects in the energy sector. There is a very wide cooperation between Armenia and Iran; therefore, any problems between Iran and the West would definitely have negative effects on our projects. For us, Iran is a very important country in the region with which we have had historical relations. I consider the Iranians to be the heirs of a very old civilization, and we respect their culture. The Iranian nuclear program is a very sensitive issue between Iran and the West, particularly the USA. We hope and believe that a diplomatic solution to this problem will be found. We also believe that implementing any kind of sanctions against Iran will not be practical; any military action against Iran will be catastrophic for the whole region. We hope that this problem will be resolved peacefully. The suggestions made by the Six countries provides optimism. As we understood, the Iranian position is very positive regarding these suggestions. This problem needs patience, continuous work and compromise from all sides to solve this issue. Armenia is one of the countries that will benefit most from a peaceful solution to this problem.

SHOJ: Armenia is considered the main ally of Russia in the South Caucasus. What is the secret for this good relation between Russia and Armenia?

KOCHARIAN: We inherited quite a rich and historical relation and cultural exchange, in addition to the common interests that have improved for decades, or even for hundreds of years. Today, we are preserving this inheritance and using it to further our common interests. Until today, we have succeeded in maintaining this relation. After the fall of the Soviet Union, some countries in South Caucasus gained independence and began drawing their own policies based on their own interests. Similarly, Armenia also took its interests into consideration and was successful in keeping whatever potential it had, benefiting from past experience, and applying what could be beneficial for Armenia and Russia. We have excellent relations with Russia in the economic and military sectors, as we have very good relations with Iran. We are also developing our relations with the European Union since we were admitted to the EU Neighborhood program and now we are trying to implement the requirements of that program. In addition, our relations with the USA are very special especially because of the aide that Armenia receives from the USA and we were included in the 3rd Millennium Program, which is helping Armenia develop economically. We maintained the relations we already had and developed them without creating any disagreement between the nations and their interests. We work with the belief that all the interests of the powerful countries meet in Armenia, rather than clash, and we try to avoid any step that could be considered a danger to the security of our partners.

SHOJ: Mr. President, in the Middle East, there exist a large Armenian Diaspora. What is the nature of the relations between Armenia and the Arab countries? And what's the position of the Arab world regarding Armenia's foreign policy?

KOCHARIAN: In general, Armenia has good relations with the Arab countries, and these relations developed as a result of the bloody events that befell the Armenians in 1915. The Arabs welcomed the Armenians and helped them get back on their feet. For this reason, we have great respect towards the Arabs. For many years, the Armenians and the Arabs had lived under the oppressive Ottoman rule. This historical period is reflected in the literature and the art of the Arabs and the Armenians. The long and special relation between the two peoples provides the conditions that could be developed at the state level. We have very good relations with the Arab countries where there are Armenian communities who have lived and worked for generations, proving that the Armenians are hardworking, loyal people. Their positive stance has influenced the natural development of the relations between the two peoples. We appreciate and assess very highly this relation; therefore, we will stay very good friends with the Arab world. This relation is not based on the interests of the two peoples; in fact, it is based on the long experience of many generations of both peoples.

SHOJ: Mr. President, at the end of this interview, allow me to thank you for giving the Al-Jazeera News Network the opportunity to talk with you. We wish you and the people of Armenia peace and progress.

KOCHARIAN: Thank you and good luck.

Al-Jazeera News Network, Qatar Sept 28, 2006
Translated from Arabic by Katia M. Peltekian exclusively for the Armenian News Network/Groong

Program: Liqa' Khass (Exclusive Interview)
Host: Zawer Shoj
Guest: Robert Kocharian, President of the Republic of Armenia
Date of Prgm: September 17, 2006


President Kocharian is a political figure who does not talk much. Therefore when he does, what he has to say attracts a lot of attention even if his remarks are bereft of anything new. His interview with Qatar’s El-Cezire News Agency on September 28th , during which he discussed Armenia’s international relations, is of significance particularly due to it having verified Armenia’s policies vis-à-vis Azerbaijan and Turkey which are not subject to changeƒx.

President Kocharian began his interview by stating that persons who suffered damage by the “genocide” were entitled to receive compensation from Turkey. Regarding this issue two points draw attention. Firstly only those persons who suffered damage can demand compensation. In other words, it is possible to derive that the Armenian government shall not pursue such a claim. President Kocharian had touched upon this topic during an interview with Mehmet Ali Birand in the year 2001 as well asserting that as a state they could not demand compensation because the Armenian State was non-existent during the period in question (1915-1916).

However, on account of having said this he was subject to sharp criticisms from the Dashnaks. Now he suffices to say that a claim for compensation can be made on the part of those who suffered damage without making any reference to the “Armenian State”.

Coming to the topic of whether or not those persons who suffered damage are legally entitled to receive compensation, as there does not exist a provision dealing with compensation in any of the agreements that resolved the problems pertaining to the First World War, in particular the Lausanne Agreement, it is not possible for Armenians to demand compensation on an individual basis. If a claim for compensation could be made, this right would have been exercised long ago and national as well as international courts would have been flooded with such cases.

At a later phase of the interview, President Kocharian, touching upon the existing problems between Turkey and Armenia listed the following issues: the non-existence of diplomatic between the two countries, the blockade (with which he is referring to how border gates are currently closed), and the position Turkey took on the Karabagh problem in support of Azerbaijan. He also stated that they would not forget the past; however he mentioned that the two peoples should be reconciled and that this could only begin “with the acknowledgment of guilt by those who committed the wrongs or crimes-call it whichever”. This line of thought infers that the normalization of relations between the two countries is contingent upon Turkey’s acceptance of the Armenian genocide allegations.

However, stating that they would like to establish diplomatic relations with Turkey, Kocharian also asserted that they would not wait for Turkey to recognize the genocide allegations to accomplish this. The contradictory aspect of this statement points to Kocharian’s need to satiate the obsession of the Diaspora with the so called ‘genocide’ whilst offering Turkey Armenia’s readiness to establish normalized political relations. He also points out that Turkey has been adamant about the precondition of the withdrawal of Armenian forces from Karabagh to which Kocharian says Armenia is not willing to comply.

It is true that Turkey has set forth pre-conditions for the normalization of relations with Armenia. This is because Armenia has not recognized Turkey’s current borders, has exerted efforts for the recognition of genocide allegations on the part of Turkey and other countries and has occupied Karabagh (legally bound to Azerbaijan) and the other Azeri lands.

If relations with Armenia were to be established devoid of any pre-conditions, as a result, Armenia would continue to not recognize Turkey’s territorial integrity, to propagate genocide allegations and occupy Karabagh and other Azeri territories. As such, Armenia would have obtained its will without paying a price.

03 October 2006


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